Long gone are my days of reconciling expenses in the check register to a print bank statement at the end of the month. Instead, I’ve been tracking daily expenses in real time since May 2015 with the app You Need a Budget (YNAB).
YNAB is a philosophy (with newly released accompanying book) as much as it is an app. Here are the four tenets of YNAB, in their words:
- Give every dollar a job.
- Embrace your true expenses.
- Roll with the punches.
- Age your money.
Their Website is as clean and clear and informative as any I’ve seen. You could easily (and productively!) get lost in their articles, tips, and sources of support for hours.
YNAB 4—which I received a few years ago for review and which has now been replaced by a yearly subscription model—consisted of a desktop app and mobile app that stayed in sync with each other via Dropbox. YNAB 4 is still fully functional, so you don’t have to upgrade to the subscription-as-service model if you don’t want to; you just can’t buy the stand-alone apps as a one-time purchase anymore. But what I’ve seen of the new Web app is an impressive step forward for an already great app.
The best thing about using YNAB is that even the act of tracking transactions has made me a more prudent spender. I’ve had months where I was still using an outdated budget, but tracking my spending was sufficient for not overdoing it. That’s perhaps the best contribution YNAB makes to one’s financial practice.
The four tenets are great, too. “Give every dollar a job” helps you avoid, as YNAB says, the scenario where you are feeling flush with cash after receiving a paycheck, so go out and buy all your friends drinks, only to realize 10 days later you needed that money for car repair. Their idea is that you decide what to do with your money before you spend it. It may not be novel, but it is also frequently ignored.
YNAB is a massive movement with a huge following. Using the app (and accompanying YNAB resources) these last 3.5 years has been immensely helpful.
Here are some pros and cons of the app (YNAB 4) itself:
- Cross-platform integration means I can track an expense with the receipt still in my hand and everything stays current
- You can carry the same budget over month to month with the click of a button, or easily modify as necessary
- The support articles, forums, and Webinar options are some of the best of any app I’ve ever seen. In fact, in the middle of writing this blog post, I went to see what Webinars there were, found a 20-minute “Learn the Four Rules” session starting in a matter of minutes, signed up, and sat in on the 20-minute session
- The app moves users away from the need to rely on complicated Excel spreadsheets (although I still use one for student loan tracking!)
- Recurring expenses are super easy to set up; then you watch them populate into your register each month, with no need to manually repeat them
- YNAB remembers your payees, so that I only have to start typing “Mar…” now to get “Market Basket” to pull up as an auto-complete option. It also learns what categories certain vendors fall into
- Handling cash is easy—you have two options
- There are some really nice spending graphs and charts you can pull up, to see where your money is going at a glance
- I’ve occasionally had to reset my budget because sync didn’t pick up, although I’ve never lost data
- Even though I’ve read and re-read the support articles on how to set up and manage credit cards in YNAB, I still find it less than intuitive
I typically include lots of screenshots in app reviews, but I’m not altogether sure how to do that in this case without disclosing sensitive info! There are a bunch of screenshots of YNAB 4 here, and of the newer subscription-based YNAB here.
All in all, working with YNAB principles has been a life-changing approach, at least in the area of finances. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.